Let’s face it—you’re kinda creepy. Part of it is beyond your control. People tend to consider men creepier than women, and studies suggest that perception of creepiness ultimately comes down to a simple threat assessment. But your taxidermy hobby isn’t helping, and there’s plenty you can do to tone it down.
Here’s some evidence-based advice on how to come off as less creepy:
Read The Room Before You Emote
If you display too many, too few, or an unconventional set of emotions in a given scenario, others are likely to express outrage, fear, and want to keep your at a greater distance, according to one 2012 study. So reading the room and coming up with the right emotion is key to appearing less creepy. If you absolutely cannot muster normal human emotions, the study suggests it’s better to be emotionless than to display the wrong emotion—incongruent affects, or emotional responses that do not fit with the situation, made people the most uneasy.
If you’re flirty in a formal meeting and if you’re laughing in the middle of a sad movie, you’re probably coming off as creepy. And that’s easy enough to fix. Either whip your emotions into shape, or turn them off entirely.
Keep An Eye On Your Own Nonverbal Cues
A fascinating 2012 study conducted in the Netherlands found that people who feel creeped out get the chills, experience lower body temperatures, and report thinking that the room temperature has dropped about five degrees. What sort of creepy experienced prompted these measurable chills? Inappropriate nonverbal cues, specifically when researchers mimicked participants’ physical behavior in ways that were socially unacceptable (either in the context of a formal meeting or in a racially insensitive manner.
“Suspicious nonverbal cues from other people can trigger feelings of physical coldness,” the authors write. “There exist implicit standards for how much nonverbal behavioral mimicry is appropriate in various types of social interactions, and individuals may react negatively when interaction partners violate these standards.”
Acting informal when a situation calls for formality can be creepy—so keep it professional.
Understand That Your Hobbies May Be Inherently Creepy
We’re not saying you can’t be yourself—but you should understand that the average person finds certain hobbies creepy. Individuals who collect items like dolls, insects, and body parts such as teeth, bones, and fingernails are considered the creepiest, research on over 1,300 men and women reveals. Researchers determined that voyeuristic hobbies from pornography to bird watching were considered a close creepy second to keeping the fingernails of friends and enemies in a jar. If you don’t want to come off as creepy, either try keeping these odder hobbies to yourself or surround yourself with likeminded doll collectors.
Or That Your Career May Make People Uncomfortable
The same study, conducted by Francis T. McAndrew, a psychology professor at Knox College, showed that people with unusual occupations are also more prone to coming off as creepy. Taxidermists, funeral directors, and sex shop owners were considered sketchy, but clowns were by far the creepiest of all. Obviously you shouldn’t abandon your dream career so that people feel comfortable around you, but perhaps people in these professions should double down on their efforts to read a room and keep their nonverbal cues appropriate.
Accept The Fact That You’re Probably Just Too Damn Manly
The unfortunate truth is that, if you’re a man, you’re more likely to be considered creepy. Facial hair doesn’t help—beards not only indicate masculinity, they can also conceal a man’s identity, increasing the odds that they’ll be seen as a potential threat. This is consistent with McAndrew’s findings, which conclude that creepiness comes down to lack of clarity about whether or not a person is a threat and, tragically, this is also consistent with past studies that show men and women are both more likely to be physically harmed by men.
“Everything that we found in this study is consistent with the notion that the perception of creepiness is a response to the ambiguity of threat,” McAndrew writes. “We see nothing in our data to discourage us from pursuing the idea that creepiness is an adaptive human response to the ambiguity of threat from others.”